Friday, April 12, 2024

Letters/Messages to TFN — OPINION: Mr. President

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Mr. President,

I hope this message finds you well. It is with deep disappointment and concern that I address this letter to you on behalf of the voiceless women and girls of our nation who are alarmed and troubled about your recent decision to pardon convicted rapists and murderers.

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Regardless of the victim’s families’ role in the pardoning of these felons, for most Gambian women, this decision contravenes one of your chief campaign promises in 2016 when you promised to usher in a government that shall serve and protect us. Your decision has left us in a state of shock, displeasure, disappointment, hindered our minds, and instilled a lot of fear in us as women. Releasing murderers, pedophiles, and rapists who have barely served their sentences sends the wrong message to would-be perpetrators and leaves us even more vulnerable.

The country has been ravaged by news of gender-based violence in recent years. In 2023, UNFPA recorded 310 cases of Gender-Based Violence between January and July of 2023, and 575 cases as of the end of December 2023. Equally, your government reported that a staggering 125 rape cases were recorded countrywide between January and December last year. This undesirable and worrying development exposes how vulnerable Gambian women have become under your watch as president, a reason I cannot appreciate the unjustifiable release of these criminals.

A few weeks ago, a young, brilliant, and hardworking Fatoumatta Kargbo was murdered in broad daylight at her workplace situated at Westfield, right in the center of town. Who would have thought that the ever-busy Westfield would become the scene of murder, especially in broad daylight? That is just how emboldened criminals have become due to the lack of action or strong response by your government against such criminality being meted out against citizens, particularly women.

To this day, the case of Marie Mendy, a former student of St. Peter’s Senior Secondary School, remains unresolved. To think that a young girl of her age would be murdered in her home in the most horrific manner never witnessed before in our country, and not a single individual has been brought to justice, leaves me wondering if your government is really serious about protecting Gambian women. Her murderers are still walking our streets free, while her family continues to wallow in pain without closure.

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And if not for Pap Ibrahim Khalilu Laye Thiam, the heartless murderer that you just pardoned, the young innocent Fatou Loum would still be alive, pursuing her dreams. Her only crime was being in her salon fending for her family. Imagine having your sister’s life taken away in the most painful manner. Fatou’s mouth was gagged, her hands and legs tied, and she was suffocated. I can only imagine the pain she must’ve gone through taking her final breaths. She had her entire future cut short within minutes. And 6 years on, that heartless murderer who took her life is now a free man. Your Excellency, have you not thought of how this makes us, Gambian women, feel? Or what impact such a decision would have on us.

Targeted murder and violence against women have been on the rise in the Gambia in the past few years. As recent as last month, a Liberian woman resident in the Gambia was killed and dumped at an uncompleted building in Kerr Serign. I remember the reported rape of an underage girl in Jarra Sankuya by one Nfamara Saidykhan, the alleged kidnapping and rape of a woman in Fajikunda by one Yankuba Njie, Yaya Mballow’s alleged rape of a fourteen-year-old girl in Sare Mamadi, Ousman Baldeh’s alleged rape of a nine-year-old girl, and Momodou Camara’s reported rape of a four-year-old girl in Tanji.

The fact that any of us, Gambian women, could or may be the next victim has become a reality we are now having to confront daily. Granted the significant strides made towards gender equality, it still remains a distant reality for most Gambian women. And while our challenges have featured prominently in many of your speeches and other government platforms, there has been little meaningful action on the ground. In view of the surge in violence against women in recent years, it is my view that Gambian women have largely been reduced to a buzzword in public pronouncements as we continue to suffer every day.

As I conclude, Your Excellency, I implore you to please take immediate action to guarantee our safety by rethinking this decision. Pardoning felons who have deprived families of their loved ones and robbed women and girls of their dignity should never be contemplated nor entertained.

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Yours sincerely,
Fatima Sillah,
THE TISA FOUNDATION

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